Starting Dialogue LO7083

Julie Beedon (
Tue, 30 Apr 1996 21:30:11

Replying to LO6201 --

Hello again Susan

>Please refer me to anything you can about dialogue. What is it? How
>do you do it? ETC.

Well I think the whole process of dialogue is best articulated for me in
Senge's fieldbook - but if I was to summarise it quickly it would be
engaging in an communication which is open to having your point of view
influenced/changed ... ie we engage in it openly prepared to share a great
deal of our own assumptions and underpinning thinking and to listen to
other people's and we are looking out for new meanings and new ways of
looking at things which will take our own learning forward.

I said in the mailing that when I am working with a group to develop this
type of working I use an underpinning model/process

I believe people engage in dialogue when they are clear that their own
point of view will be relevant, heard and valued... that they can see that
other people are involved because they have other perspectives whihc will
add value... to continue to engage in dialogue people to need to agree
ongoing norms and methods which will sustain the sharing and give everyone
equal voice ... and as the dialogue develops people will be liekely to be
able to move to new places of understanding where they are ready to commit
to common goals ... in many ways the model I use links straight to team
learning by building a framework to develop the ability to dialogue

For more about MCG see the paper below

I believe this work originated as as unpublished paper by an intern in an
Ann Arbour consulting firm but it has been developed all over the world
since then.

I value it highly and use it as an underlying model in planning most of my
work - I find it adds process to the usual forming etc model


As groups of people (two or more make a group) meet, there is
always available for observation what is called "process".
Process is defined separately from content.


Process: something going on; a natural phenomenon marked by
gradual change that leads toward a particular result.

Content: something contained; the matter dealt with in a field study; substance; gist.

The content of a meeting is the matter(s) being dealt with.
The process is how the persons work with each other in dealing with the content.

Process, then, can be open and unstructured or closely regimented
and tightly controlled or anywhere on the spectrum. The results and
the process are valued only as appropriate, not as "right" or "wrong".
In any case the process will cover the following three areas:

Membership - Control - Goals

* Membership is focused on identifying who is on the team, why, and
what roles they play.
*Control is concerned with how the activity of the members is directed,
decided, and co-ordinated.
*Goals identify the purpose(s) towards which team member activity is
directed and how well progress is being made.

Data and activity flow is critical as the energy or motive for ongoing
team development (the more we do together, the more we know
about each other, how we work together, and how well we are doing
at achieving our common goal).


In a totally new group - people coming together for the first time -
there is a reason for coming together. Whenever anyone first
comes into a group, there are entry issues. This may be determined
by the people themselves, or they may be there because somebody
else wanted them to be a part of the group. For example, at work
some people may get together voluntarily to address a common issue.
In another instance, different people may be meeting for the first time
as members of a committee to design ways to improve a product, and
all members may be selected by someone else and assigned then to
the committee. In either case, no matter how clear the purpose for
coming together is, it is not yet a goal of the group. In a very real sense,
the group or team has not yet come together.

In such a situation, the first issues to be addressed are ones of membership.
Membership includes answering such questions as:
- who are the other people here?
- why am I here?
- what is my role with this group?
- do I belong here?
- in what terms may I belong?
- do I want to belong?
- who else is here?
- who do I have to be/pretend to be to be here?
- what values and assumptions are we working under?
- what is expected of me?
- what can I contribute?
- how will I be treated?

These questions are often not asked out loud, but we do ask them
(and similar questions) to ourselves when we first enter a new group.
If people are preoccupied with these questions, wanting enough answers
to feel comfortable, then they will not fully enter into a working team with others.
They need to establish a minimum level of trust.


Once people are sufficiently comfortable (trusting) of being in the group, the
next set of issues that most typically arise are concerned with control.
Control has to do with power in the group - how the group decides things,
who leads, how disputes are settled etc. In most work settings this is fairly
clear because the heads of committees may be appointed, or other roles
designated, within the larger authority structure that is already established.
In groups that come together voluntarily there may need to be some sorting or clarifying.

Once people are satisfied about membership and control comfortable with
who is on the team and that there is a "fair" system for power/control, they
naturally begin to work on what it is they want to accomplish - goals.


Again, with a mandated group, this may be merely a routine double-check
of the assignment given to a committee. Often, however, people have slightly
different ideas about what they think the group should accomplish. "Are we
just supposed to come up with recommendations, or are we supposed to
do some research on product improvement, or are we supposed to actually
develop the product?" may be one type of question.

For any group to come together as a team it is critical that everybody be clear
about what the team's goal is, and that members of the team share that goal.
They may have other goals, as well. If people have differing goals, or have
individual goals that are counter to the team's stated goal, these need to be
aired or they will result in "hidden agendas" that inhibit the success of the team.

Beginning to work on a goal leads to membership issues again, only at a "deeper"
level, thus starting a new cycle. For example, a group might say, "now that
we've agreed what is to be accomplished, we need to decide who will do
what parts of the work (role/membership and control)".

This is all fairly straightforward so far. In well functioning teams these issues are
part of the healthy process that emerges when people work smoothly together,
and often need no special attention. There are, however, some complications.
It is the complications, perhaps that make this theoretical model useful because
it can serve as a guide for corrective action.

The first complication is that this process of membership - control - goal is a
continuing cycle as long as a team continues to function. Once a goal is
mutually understood, and it is agreed who will do what to achieve it, the
process of working to achieve the goal leads to the "deeper" level. It is deeper
because people are familiar with the surface issues but as they work together they will
inevitably need to:

1. know more about each other (dependability, work habits, strengths, weaknesses etc.)
2. have effective ways to deal with different burdens of work assignments
(especially if 'what you do affects my work') and
3. check whether the continued work is sufficiently on track with the stated goal.

As this is going on, each member is constantly adding new information
about the others and about the common effort.

A second complication arises when a group is mixed, some members of
long standing and some new ones.

For example, if a team member is consistently questioning how decisions are made,
somebody else's right to make a decision, or wanting to do somebody else's job,
it indicates a breakdown in the control area. What is usually called for, therefore,
is to "back up" and clarify or establish some membership issue. In this example
it might be that the team member feels that he/she is not recognised as having
become more competent or professional than before (a new definition of role),
and therefore expecting his/her views or responsibilities to be given more weight
by others. Unless this is resolved as a membership/role issue, there will continue
to be a breakdown in the control area. The same idea of "backing up" applies
to trying to resolve any breakdown in the team development or team maintenance process.

- Who are the other people here?
- Why am I here?
- What is my role with this group?
- Do I belong here?
- In what terms may I belong?
- Who else is here?
- Who do I have to be (pretend to be) to be here?
- What values and assumptions are we working under?
- What is expected of me?
- What can I contribute?
- How will I be treated

- How the activity of the members is directed, decided and co-ordinated
- Who is in charge here?
- What style of leadership prevails?
- What control do I have?
- How much do I want?
- Are we making the decision, or are we making suggestions?
- When conflict emerges, how do we handle it?
- How will decisions be made, e.g. majority rules, horse trading, consensus?
- When decisions are reached, who implements them and how?
- Are we equal in this group?
- Group think?
- What are our norms
starting/ending times
will the manager be the leader/facilitator
quorum - who do we call if we can't be at the meeting
who will notify everyone else
- Who will be in charge of the agenda/take notes

- Identify the purpose(s) toward which team member activity is
directed and how well progress is being made
- Is the goal clear?
- What is the importance of our goal to the whole organisation?
Is our solution in line with the goals of the organisation?
- What do we want to accomplish?
- Do we understand the assignment?
- How will we know we have done it?
- What do I want to see happen?
- Who will implement our decision?
- What happens if the decision/solution has an impact on other parts of the system (another department)?
- Does anyone in the group have another (unspoken) goal (hidden agenda)?


Membership activities

Control activities
clear structure
decision making
who is in charge of what

Clear goals

Requests and commitments

Julie Beedon
VISTA Consulting - for a better future


Julie Beedon <>

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